By Aksel Sundström
Although having a protected status, the sea turtle population in Mozambican waters faces a continuing threat from humans. Aksel Sundström witnessed how another Green turtle had been killed last week on isla de Inhaca, Maputo province.
Last week it happened again. What used to be an old Green turtle is now an empty carapace in a dusty museum. Without increased monitoring of these disappearing creatures this will be repeated soon enough.
Only two hours boat ride from Maputo, the island Inhaca offer a sharp contrast to the life in the capital. Although enjoying some income from tourism the local inhabitants are mostly dependent on small-scale fishing for their livelihood. The island’s rich ecosystem, with dolphins, coral reefs and mangroves, make it an important target for conservation measures.
Some parts of the surrounding reefs are today protected marine reserves. However, conservation efforts face several challenges. For instance, the island has a population of sea turtles – Green sea turtles, Leatherbacks as well as Loggerheads – which remain threatened by poaching activities. Although local fishermen clearly know that the sea turtles are prohibited catch the species are sometimes caught, as bycatch or targeted species, as their meat creates additional income or food. And last week this gloomy story was retold.
It was one of the conservation officials on the island that found a boy trying to sell the killed turtle on a local market. He confiscated the remains and brought it to the local research station. The photo was taken last Tuesday.
When I spoke to officials at the research station earlier this week they describe a difficult situation facing these endangered animals. The staff estimates that they receive one carcass every other month on average, though the cause of death sometimes is difficult to establish. This Green turtle however, with its fins cut off, was clearly killed by human hand.
As apparent from the picture the size indicates that this animal had enjoyed a long life. The carapace will now be conserved and kept at a local museum for marine biology, a sad destiny for this beautiful creature.
On a larger perspective, industrial actors – such as domestic trawlers or illegal vessels from Europe and Asia – is perhaps the bigger threat to the sea turtles in the region. They are difficult to monitor and noncompliance to turtle excluding devices are widespread. But poaching by local communities in coastal areas where these turtles hatch remain an existing problem.
What is evident from the local situation on Inhaca is that legislation means little without law abidance. When local fishermen do not follow regulations, the protection status of these vanishing creatures needs stronger enforcement: Resources for monitoring the population in this area is currently miniscule and no functioning protection program is in place.
Stronger conservation efforts of these sea turtles are urgently needed.
Aksel Sundström is a PhD-candidate in political science, affiliated to the Quality of Government Institute, in Gothenburg, Sweden. His research currently addresses how government corruption hampers conservation efforts, focusing on marine fisheries in South Africa.